Exclusive: Nalanda Mentors Group Dissolved, VC’s Second Extension Denied

Just days after Nalanda University said Gopa Sabharwal would remain as vice-chancellor, extending her term till the appointment of new head, the president overruled the decision.

Nalanda University. Credit: Nalanda University Blog

Nalanda University. Credit: Nalanda University Blog

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday dissolved the Nalanda Mentors Group (NMG) – Nalanda University’s de-facto governing board. He also overruled the NMG’s decision to extend vice-chancellor Gopa Sabharwal’s term, stating that she has to demit office on November 24.

“The president, in his capacity as the visitor of Nalanda University, has approved the constitution of the governing board of the university in accordance with section 7 of the Nalanda University Act, 2010,” sources told the The Wire.

As per the 2010 Act, the new 14-member governing board will be chaired by the chancellor and will include the (acting) vice-chancellor, along with five members nominated by India, China, Australia, Laos PDR and Thailand. Former revenue secretary N. K. Singh, who was also member of the Nalanda Mentors Group, will represent India.

Besides, the government has nominated Arvind Sharma of McGill University, ICCR president Lokesh Chandra and Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya to the governing board for the three seats reserved for ‘Renowned Academicians/Educationists’.

The other members will be secretary (east), Ministry of External Affairs, an additional secretary-rank official from the human resources development ministry, and two members representing the Bihar state government.

Further, the president on Tuesday ordered the senior-most dean of the university to temporarily discharge the duties of the vice-chancellor upon “completion of the extended term” of the current incumbent.

“This will be a stop-gap measure until the new vice-chancellor is appointed,” said sources.

The Wire had reported on November 19 that the ministry was not backing the decision by the governing board to give another extension to Gopa Sabharwal beyond November 25. Senior officials had told The Wire that the decision was “not legally tenable”as the 2012 statutes had only a provision for a one-time extension for the vice-chancellor “not exceeding a total period of one year”.

When asked for a clarification at the time, the Nalanda University spokesperson had defended the move, arguing that under the statutes, “the incumbent vice-chancellor is to stay on until the new vice-chancellor is in place”. “This is to ensure that there is no leadership vacuum in the university,” said a statement released to The Wire.

The statement also mentioned that the “governing board is grateful to Gopa Sabharwal for agreeing to stay on and act as the interim vice-chancellor until the new vice-chancellor which the visitor will select from a panel of names assumes office”.

On Saturday, the university had even made a public statement that there would be no hiatus in leadership.

Sources pointed out that the NMG had been “discharging” the duties of the governing board after being given repeated extensions since November 25, 2010.

Besides George Yeo and Sabharwal, the NMG-cum governing board’s members were Amartya Sen, N.K. Singh, Meghnad Desai (London School of Economics), Prapod Assavavirulhakarn (Thailand), Wang Gungwu (Singapore), Susumu Nakanishi (Japan), Wang Bangwei (China), Tansen Sen (City University of New York), Sugata Bose (Rajya Sabha member of parliament) and secretary (east), Preeti Saran.

The NMG was formed in 2007, with Amartya Sen as the head, with the aim of developing the concept of Nalanda University. The proposal was formally endorsed at the second East Asia summit in November 2007.

Thereafter, when the Nalanda University Act was passed in 2010, the NMG was supposed to exercise its power for one year from November 2010. “This was later extended to two more years due to the reason that financial contributions from some member states were not received,” said sources.

In August 2013, the Rajya Sabha referred the Nalanda University (Amendment) Bill to the standing committee on external affairs.

In line with the standing committee report, the cabinet approved the recommendation to move official amendments to the Bill in February 2014. But then parliament was prorogued for general elections in April-May.

“Due to these reasons, the term of the NMG which was discharging the functions of governing board, was extended in November 2013 until a governing board is constituted. This arrangement continued till November 21 (Monday),” said sources.

After Narendra Modi became prime minister, it was widely expected that the government would take some steps to clamp down on the university, whose chancellor, Amartya Sen had been highly critical about the prime minister.

In February 2015, Sen  refrained from seeking to serve as chancellor for Nalanda University for the second time. He had alleged that the government was deliberately not allowing the president to  assent to his continuing at the post. After Sen left the field, the government appointed former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo as university  chancellor.

The dissolution of the Nalanda Mentors Group-cum-governing board effectively  means that the selection of the new vice-chancellor will be further delayed.

In January, a five-member search panel had been set up, but there was a delay in starting the selection process due to a dispute over interpretation of statutes on whether Gopa Sabharwal’s name could be solely forwarded to the president for reappointment as vice- chancellor. Ultimately, as The Wire reported,  attorney general Mukul Rohtagi had to weigh in and the panel had to compulsorily compile a list of three names to the president to make his choice. The advertisement inviting applications for the post of vice-chancellor was issued on October 31, with the last date for application being November 30. With this latest move, the search panel, made up of members of the previous board, effectively does not exist anymore.